The decision triangle is a tool to help you problem-solve around a tough interpersonal decision. I don’t remember where I found it—I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with it—but I’ve been using it forever.
The triangle, of course, has three sides. The first side reflects my needs and responsibilities in a situation. Side two is everybody else’s needs. And the third side covers the reality of the situation, the stuff over which we may have little control—things like droughts, birth, death, broken arms, stock market crashes, rejections, diseases, etc.
Many of us have a habit of considering only one or two sides of the triangle in making a decision. Then we end up sadly surprised and unsatisfied with a lousy outcome.
For instance, if we have an inordinate focus on our own needs and don’t consider the impact of our decision on others, we can end up alone and lonely. If we take others’ needs into consideration but throw ourselves under the bus, we can walk around feeling angry and resentful. And if we don’t look at the reality of the situation, we may end up with an outcome that has us slapping our foreheads crying: “What was I thinking?!?”
When I left full-time employment to expand my private practice, the timing took the triangle into account. On the my needs side, I made sure I was ready to weather the insecurities inherent in being my own boss and not having a regular paycheck. The reality side called for a solid financial base, the right office space, and a more sophisticated internet presence before it would make sense. Finally, I needed to consider the needs of the clients at my former employer to make the transition as painless as possible. One of the toughest parts of this particular decision was balancing the needs of my former clients with my desire to be independent. It meant that I would be saying goodbye to people I cared deeply about.
On the surface the transition appeared smooth as silk—I woke up one morning, decided to do it, and everything fell into place oddly perfectly. The reality is that it took years for all the sides of the triangle to be addressed before I made the final leap.
So if you’ve got a decision to make, play with the triangle—do a reality check, look at the impact of your behavior on everybody involved, and finally give your needs the same kindness and respect you offer to others.